Italian court acquits ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi of bribing witness in underage prostitution case

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By Andrea Carlo  with ANSA, Reuters
Silvio Berlusconi waves as he leaves the Quirinal Palace. 21 October 2022.
Silvio Berlusconi waves as he leaves the Quirinal Palace. 21 October 2022.   -  Copyright  Gregorio Borgia/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved

Italy's former premier Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted by an Italian court on Thursday after having been accused of bribing a witness in a previous underage prostitution case.

The charges brought against the 'Cavaliere' were that he had paid Neapolitan singer and confidant Mariano Apicella €157,000 to lie in his defence.

But a court in Rome let Berlusconi off after prosecutor Roberto Felici argued that there was no case to answer.

The judges also cleared Apicella of alleged perjury after the time limit for reaching a verdict on such a crime had lapsed.

The media tycoon and current Senator had been formerly accused of soliciting sexual services from a 17-year-old exotic dancer, Karima El Mahroug (known as "Ruby the Heartstealer) in 2009, shortly after starting his third term as prime minister.

Berlusconi was eventually cleared of all charges in 2014, since the appeals court maintained he could not have known Mahroug -- whom he claimed to have thought was the late Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's niece -- was still a minor.

Nevertheless, the then-PM's alleged conduct while in office -- with reports of sordid 'Bunga Bunga' parties, involving Apicella himself, widely circulating -- contributed significantly to his political demise in the early 2010s.

In response to Thursday's verdict, Berlusconi stated he was "happy and satisfied" with the result, claiming he "appreciated that the public prosecutor himself asked for an acquittal."

"The elements put forward by the defence," he added, "have clarified beyond reasonable doubt the absence of elements of opacity in this affair."

While such a trial may have gone in Berlusconi's favour, it is far from the end of his legal vicissitudes. The former PM -- whose party, Forza Italia, has recently joined Italy's new right-wing government -- is accused of bribing 24 witnesses in a separate case which is expected to conclude in January next year.

If found guilty, Berlusconi could potentially face prison, with prosecutors calling for a six-year sentence.